King of the streets? Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr
On a September afternoon in 1992, roughly 50 San Francisco cyclists pedaled together down the middle of Market Street, leaving congestion in the wake of an event they dubbed "Commute Clot." The unfortunate name highlighted the negative consequences of the ride for motorists, rather than raise awareness of a growing movement of cyclists. Eventually, the group changed the name to "Critical Mass."
Today, hundreds of cities around the world hold Critical Mass gatherings on the last Friday of every month. Many credit the movement for helping to improve cyclists' rights on city streets. Others say the riders are unrepresentative of commuters in general and decry the traffic jams, occasional arrests, and rare violent confrontations that have occurred during the rides. In 1992, a cyclist in San Francisco smashed the back window of a family's minivan. Last year, a driver in Porto Alegre, Brazil, drove his black Volkswagon Golf through a gathering and injured 30 cyclists.
To commemorate their 20th anniversary, Critical Mass of San Francisco put out a book titled Shift Happens. Rather than spending time to critique that title, I compiled a reading list that offers a brief history of the movement and some perspective on cyclist-driver confrontations.